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Population change and structure

The following highlights are based on the estimated resident population, which is the best available measure of the size and structure of the population usually living in New Zealand:

  • The estimated resident population of New Zealand was 4.37 million at 30 June 2010.
  • Estimated population growth was 52,000 (1.2 percent) during the June 2010 year.
  • Natural increase and net migration gain contributed 35,500 and 16,500, respectively, to population growth during the June 2010 year.
  • The median ages for males and females were 35.5 and 37.6 years, respectively, at 30 June 2010.
  • Children (aged 0–14 years) made up 20 percent of the New Zealand population, people of working ages (15–64 years) made up 66 percent, and those aged 65 years and over (65+) made up 13 percent, at 30 June 2010.
  • The Māori ethnic group estimated resident population of New Zealand at 30 June 2010 was 663,900.
  • The Māori population is much younger than the total population. The median age of the Māori ethnic group was 23.0 years of age at 30 June 2010, 13.7 years younger than that of the total population.
  • New Zealand’s population reached four million in the first half of 2003. The country’s first million was reached in 1908, with the two million mark following in 1952. The three million mark was reached in 1973 – this was the ‘fastest’ million, achieved in 21 years.

Figure 1

Figure 1, Components of population change 

Population concepts

There are three main population measures produced by Statistics NZ: census night population count, census usually resident population count and estimated resident population.

The census night population count is a count of all people present in New Zealand on a given census night. This count includes visitors from overseas who are counted on census night, but excludes residents who are temporarily overseas on census night.

The census usually resident population count is a count of all people who usually live, and are present, in New Zealand on a given census night. This count excludes visitors from overseas and residents who are temporarily overseas on census night.

The estimated resident population is an estimate of all people who usually live in New Zealand at a given date. This estimate includes all residents present in New Zealand and counted by the census (census usually resident population count), residents who are temporarily overseas (who are not included in the census), and an adjustment for residents missed or counted more than once by the census (net census undercount). Visitors from overseas are excluded.

Population growth

The estimated resident population of New Zealand at 30 June 2010 was 4,367,800. This represents an increase of 52,000 (1.2 percent) over the 30 June 2009 estimate of 4,315,800. The population growth recorded in the June 2010 year was comparable to the average annual increase of 51,000 (1.2 percent) during the last decade.

The population growth during the June 2010 year was due to a natural increase (excess of births over deaths) of 35,500 and net permanent and long-term migration of 16,500. Historically, natural increase has been the dominant element in population growth. During the last decade, the excess of births over deaths accounted for around two-thirds of New Zealand’s population growth.

Median age

New Zealand has an ageing population because of a shift to sustained low fertility and low mortality rates. This is also observed in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. At 30 June 2010, half the New Zealand population was over the age of 36.7 years, compared with a median age of 34.3 years a decade earlier.

The median age for females was 37.6 years at 30 June 2010, while for males it was 35.5 years. The higher median age for females reflects their higher life expectancy, 82.4 years, compared with 78.4 years for males (New Zealand abridged life table, 2007–2009). In the past decade, the median age has increased by 2.0 years for males and 2.5 years for females.

Age structure

The age composition of New Zealand’s population has changed over the last decade. Between the 2000 and 2010 June years, the number of children (aged 0–14 years) grew by just 15,700 (1.8 percent) from 878,700 to 894,500. In the June 2010 year, children made up 20 percent of all New Zealanders, down from 23 percent in 2000.

The number of New Zealanders of working age (15–64 years) reached 2,904,200 at 30 June 2010. This age group, which accounted for 66 percent of New Zealand’s population in 2010, increased by 378,600 (15 percent) between the 2000 and 2010 June years. People in the older working ages (40–64 years) recorded a much larger percentage increase (25 percent) than younger workers (6.9 percent) over the last decade. In 2010, the median age of the working-age population was 39.3 years, compared with 37.8 years a decade earlier.

The number of New Zealanders aged 65+ continues to grow. Between June 2000 and 2010 their number increased by 115,700 (26 percent), from 453,500 to 569,200. The 65+ age group is itself ageing and this partly reflects the continuing improvement in longevity. Males and females aged 90 years and over recorded the largest growth during the last decade, up 80 and 46 percent respectively. Over the same time, the median age for the 65 years and over age group has decreased slightly from 73.9 years to 73.8 years. Women significantly outnumber men in the older age groups. At 30 June 2010 there were about 55 percent more women than men aged 80 years and over.

Māori population estimates

The estimated resident population of the Māori ethnic group at 30 June 2010 was 663,900. The Māori population is much younger than the total population. Half of New Zealand’s Māori ethnic group population was under 23.0 years of age at 30 June 2010, 13.7 years younger than the median age of the total population.

Limitations are inherent in the data used to derive Māori population estimates. For example, no data on external migration for the Māori ethnic group are available. All estimates for the Māori ethnic group are supplied only as a guide for research and other analytical purposes.

Base population

The latest estimates available are based on the 2006 Census usually resident population. The base population at 30 June 2006 was derived by updating the census usually resident population counts from the 2006 Census for:

  • net census undercount (as measured by the 2006 Post-enumeration Survey)
  • the number of residents temporarily overseas on census night
  • births, deaths and net permanent and long-term migration between census night (7 March 2006) and 30 June 2006
  • reconciliation with demographic estimates at ages 0–4 years.

Population estimates after 30 June 2006 will be revised following the results from the 2011 Census of Population and Dwellings.

More information

The following information on population change and structure is available on the Statistics NZ website:

Time series data is available from the Infoshare database. Population estimates are available from two subject groups in the Population category:

  • Demography age estimates – DAE
  • Demography population estimates – DPE.

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